Wildfires underscore importance of preparedness

During the month of June and into July, I had the privilege of serving people affected by the Black Forest, East Peak fires and the West Fork Complex.

I saw firsthand the fear and emotional roller coaster that the people in those communities dealt with for many weeks. I also saw our Red Cross staff members and volunteers spend endless hours providing comfort and hope to hundreds of people affected by one of the worst wildfire seasons in many years.

I appreciate those of you in Southwest Colorado who took the time to make a donation to the Red Cross that allowed us to house, feed and care for those people who were displaced from their homes, many for several weeks.

During the wildfires, we opened 11 shelters across Colorado, served more than 66,000 meals, distributed 2,200 comfort kits and provided more than 40,000 bulk items such as shovels, rakes, face masks and gloves.

Not only did we assist people during the emergency, we continue to assist communities affected by these disasters through long-term recovery. We also will help them prepare for and become more resilient in the face of future wildfires and floods.

Spending many hours with people who had to evacuate with just a few minutes’ notice made me more passionate about spreading the word about preparedness. I heard “if only I had taken the time to get things ready” more times than I could count.

Some people didn’t have a kit that had important papers and information ready to go. Some didn’t take pictures inside and outside their homes to document what they had. They were left with trying to remember what was inside each room as they completed their insurance paperwork.

I encourage each of you to take the time today to get your emergency kit ready and have thorough documentation of what you have inside and outside your home. If you ever find yourself in a situation where you need to evacuate your home at a moment’s notice, you won’t have to say “if only.”

You can find out more about how to prepare by going to www.redcross.org/prepare. You also can contact your local insurance agent for guidance.

The Red Cross provides preparedness presentations to local civic groups, homeowners associations and churches. This two-hour presentation is an in-depth training about ways to easily and economically prepare your family for either sheltering in place or evacuating your residence during an emergency. You can contact our office to schedule a class.

Cindi Shank is executive director of the Southwest Colorado chapter of the American Red Cross.

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